We live in a time where technology helps even out the seasons. We can stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. We can get bananas just about any time of the year whether they are in season or not. If they aren’t in season here they ship them from another area of the world where they are still in season.We have effectively flattened the seasons out and have made life a lot more predictable and convenient than it was in Bible times.
In ancient times, the seasons mattered. Survival depended on certain things happening in specific seasons of the year. You had to plant crops at a certain time and harvest them at a certain time or else you would starve to death. Because of that, the year had a certain predictable rhythm to it.
In the Old Testament God infused that annual rhythm of life with the story of faith through three main festivals (explained in Deuteronomy 16). Growing up, I heard of Passover and Pentecost but only as they were mentioned in either the Exodus story or in the Gospels/Acts 2. I had no idea what these festivals were about, what was taught at each one and how it was connected to the harvest until much later in life. In each of these three festivals, God paired the necessary cycle of the seasons with the story of faith in some very explicit and memorable ways. The story was told, the story was lived, the story was remembered. Here are the festivals:
Passover – Every year they were commanded to celebrate Passover in the Spring time. Passover marked the beginning of the cereal harvest. The first to be harvested, at the time of Passover, was barley. It was at that time that they people sacrificed a lamb and retold the story of the deliverance of their ancestors from Egypt. They would talk about the death of the first born and the meaning of the elements of the meal (bitter herbs, the lamb, etc). Telling this story year in and year out was foundational to their identity and relationship with God.
Pentecost – Seven weeks later was the Feast of Pentecost (also called the “Feast of Weeks”). At that festival people celebrated the next major plot point in the exodus-to-promised land deliverance narrative, the giving of the Law at Sinai. Passover marked the beginning of the cereal harvest and Pentecost marked its end with the harvesting of the last type of cereal/grain – wheat. At the time they offered a grain offering to the Lord. Pentecost is considered to be the birthday of the Torah (because it marked the giving of the Law at Sinai). Because of that, the Jews read a lot of scripture from the entire Old Testament during Pentecost. Like Passover, Pentecost served as an annual reminder of a significant part of their faith story and relationship with God. It encouraged them to be thankful and to remember who it was who was providing them their harvest and also their Law.
Tabernacles – Third is the feast of Tabernacles. This is the time of harvesting figs, grapes, olives and pomegranates. What happened after Sinai? The people wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, living in booths/temporary shelters…anticipating their entrance into the promised land. It was during this harvest that many of the farmers would go out in their fields and construct booths in order to protect their crops during harvest. Once again, the season of the year and the agricultural activities were tied into their faith story in a way that reinforced their faith and kept the scriptures before them year in and year out.
Most of us aren’t very good at establishing sacred rhythms. The closest we probably get is Sunday worship. What are some ways we can infuse our faith with the seasons of the year so that we can instill in ourselves and our children the story of our faith and God’s faithfulness? The liturgical calendar is one shot at this. Many in our fellowship have rejected that approach because of its “denominational” roots but, honestly, what is wrong with us having reminders of who we are, where we have come from and how our God has worked in this world? How might we infuse our year with reminders of our faith?